Almost 2,000 years ago a singular event happened in Jerusalem that shook the earth literally and figuratively--the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Known in the region as an itinerant preacher and miracle worker, He was crucified by the Roman government under the authority of a local military governor. Everyone knows the New Testament story of Pontius Pilate, the local face of Rome, who was spurred on by his fear of retribution from Caesar if he failed to quell Hebrew uprisings in his region and the bigotry of religious leaders in the Jewish community. However, the story did not end at the location chosen by the soldiers for carrying out the death penalty.
Being crucified was the most heinous and barbaric method of getting rid of criminals, and was heightened to an art form by the Romans. It was extremely cruel, visually disgusting, and horribly painful. Also, being a method of torture before death, it was considered by the the Jews to be a spiritual defeat. The Bible says that anyone who hung on a tree was cursed, and this was no exception. According to About.com, the word crucifixion comes from the Latin "crucifixio," or "crucifixus," meaning "fixed to a cross." Crucifixion was an ancient method of execution in which the victim's hands and feet were bound and nailed to a cross. It was one of the most painful and disgraceful methods of capitol punishment. Victims were usually beaten and tortured and then forced to carry their own cross to the crucifixion site. The Roman cross was formed of wood, typically with a vertical stake and a horizontal cross beam near the top. Different types and shapes of crosses existed for different forms of crucifixion.
The Roman form of crucifixion was not employed in the Old Testament by the Jewish people, as they saw crucifixion as one of the most horrible, cursed forms of death, according to About.com, as noted in the book of Deuteronomy, part of the Torah (Law of Moses). In New Testament Bible times, the Romans used this tortuous method of execution as a means of exerting authority and control over the population. Before nailing the victim to the cross, a mixture of vinegar, gall and myrrh was usually offered to alleviate some of the victim's suffering. Wooden planks were usually fastened to the vertical stake as a footrest or seat, allowing the victim to rest his weight and lift himself for a breath, thus prolonging suffering and delaying death for up to three days. Unsupported, the victim would hang entirely from nail-pierced wrists, severely restricting breathing and circulation. This excruciating ordeal would lead to exhaustion, suffocation, brain death and heart failure. At times, mercy was shown by breaking the victim's legs, causing death to come quickly. As a deterrent to crime, crucifixions were carried out in highly public places with the criminal charges posted on the cross above the victim's head.
A description of crucifixion is not for the faint of heart. With Jesus' shoulders against the wood, the Roman legionnaire felt for the depression at the front of the wrist. The soldier drove a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum, or cross beam, was then lifted into place at the top of the stipes, and the titulus reading "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" was nailed into place. The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now crucified, according to EvangelicalOutreach.org.
According to Evangelical Outreach, as Jesus slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain. The nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerve, large nerve trunks which traverse the mid-wrist and hand. As He pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was searing agony as the nail tore through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of this feet. At this point, another phenomenon occurred. As the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps swept over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by the arm, the pectoral muscles, the large muscles of the chest, were paralyzed and the intercostal muscles, the small muscles between the ribs, were unable to act. Air could be drawn into the lungs, but could not be exhaled. Jesus fought to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, the carbon dioxide level increased in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided.
The common method of ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of the bones of the leg, according to Evangelical Outreach. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward; the tension could not be relieved from the muscles of the chest, and rapid suffocation occurred. Apparently, to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. John 19:34 states, "And immediately there came out blood and water." Thus there was an escape of watery fluid from the sac surrounding the heart and the blood of the interior of the heart. This is rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Jesus died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium. So much for Roman compassion. After His death, Jesus' body was taken down from the cross and hastily buried in a borrowed tomb, sealed, and then guarded around the clock with a heavy contingent of Roman soldiers to make sure He would stay there and the body not be stolen by His followers.
The story has a twist that no one expected. Not even the most clever novelist of the day could have dreamed up the next chapter, and here is where Truth is stranger than fiction. Three days later, the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive--seen by his disciples and many others. No doubt the Roman guards had run away for fear of death themselves or fainted and then disappeared. When the tomb opened up, they either freaked out or ran or dropped in their tracks. Jesus' tomb was secured in three ways, according to RiverPower.org:
(a) A large stone was rolled against it. It was customary to roll big stones against tombs; the stones were generally too big to be moved by just a few men, so levers were used to move them. Some have estimated that the stone that sealed Jesus' tomb weighed 1-1/2 to 2 two tons, which is the approximate weight of a midsize car.
(b) A Roman guard unit--which usually consisted of four soldiers--was stationed at the tomb. Roman guards were strictly disciplined fighting men held to the highest standards. Failure often required death by torturous and humiliating methods.
(c) The Roman seal was affixed to the stone that secured the tomb. The seal stood for the power and authority of the Roman Empire. Breaking the seal meant automatic execution by crucifixion upside down. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb's entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.
On that Sunday after the crucifixion, the tomb indeed was empty. The Christ had been resurrected by the miraculous power of God. Why is this significant? Without the Resurrection, the Christian faith has no justification for existing. According to ChristianCourier.com, there are many reasons why this watershed event is important. Here are a few:
1.) First, the resurrection is one of the major evidences that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
2.) Second, Jesus’ resurrection represents an assurance that we can have forgiveness from our sins.
3.) Third, the resurrection tells the world that the kingdom of God is ruled by a living sovereign.
4.) Fourth, Jesus’ resurrection proves that physical death is not the termination of human existence. God, who is the giver of life, has the power to reanimate the human body.
5.) Fifth, Jesus' resurrection previewed the ultimate victory of Christianity over all its enemies.
To deny the resurrection is to deny the basis for faith in the Jesus and eternal life, according to GDCOC.org. Furthermore, Jesus' resurrection is essential to salvation. If He was not raised, then no one could possibly be saved to a life with God after death. Because God is gracious, He offers eternal life to those who obediently receive Jesus' salvation. But because He is just, He must punish those who do not repent and live for Him. If there is no reward after death, then there is no real grace. Many good people suffer in this life just as much or more than evil people. Grace demands a resurrection so the righteous may be rewarded. Many wicked people prosper in this life far above righteous people. Many criminals and sinners are neither caught nor punished. If there is no resurrection and punishment after death, there is no real justice. If there is no resurrection, then God is neither gracious nor just. His word states that the inequities of this life will be corrected AFTER this life. If you believe God is just and righteous, you must believe in life after death. To deny this is to deny the very character of God. If there is no resurrection, Satan is the ultimate victor and God has been defeated. The ultimate victory of God requires a resurrection. How much do you think about the fact that someday you really will die, someday you really will be raised and stand before Jesus in judgment and enter your eternal rewards? If you can positively claim a personal faith relationship in Jesus, then your eternal health care will be forever positively sealed with no fear of pain, suffering, or loss "when the roll is called up yonder."
Until next time. Maranatha!